Monday, September 24, 2012


 Hampton Court Palace

London,  Day 2

Imagine it's the summer of 1528 and you are Henry VIII. London is hot, the air stifling, and the Royal Palace at Westminster is downwind of a very foul smelling Tower of London. You say to heck with this and collect your wife of the moment and 800 of your closest courtiers and sail upriver 10 miles in the Royal Barge to your favorite Palace, Hampton Court. Surrounded by acres of lush green countryside, it has an abundance of game, and swans swim leisurely in languid ponds; it is pure heaven. However, there is only one hitch. The Palace doesn't belong to you.

There is nothing worse than being King of England and one of your lackeys has nicer digs than you.  Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, made the fatal mistake of out styling the King. Not only that, he was unable to persuade the Pope to grant Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon and that sealed the deal.  Henry confiscated the Palace as his own, and for the next ten years transformed Hampton Court into the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent palace in all of England and Europe. He added tennis courts, bowling alleys, pleasure gardens and a maze, 1,100 acres of hunting grounds, a vast dining room (the Great Hall) and a huge 28 person capacity bathroom euphemistically called the "Great House of Easement". It remained Henry's favorite until his death in 1547.  All six of his wives visited the Palace and he even married his last wife there, Catherine Parr in her sumptuous private chambers.

Years after Henry VIII's death, the Palace remained an important place in which to entertain and impress. King James I loved plays and William Shakespeare and his "King's Men" were often booked to produce his plays for royal audiences.

In 1689, the Royal reigning couple William and Mary transformed the Palace into a baroque beauty, replacing chimneys, adding towers and changing the east and south facades, giving it a strange mixture of medieval sturdiness and graceful elegance. Many of the gardens were dug up and replaced with sculpted landscapes popular on European grand estates.  

The gardens were my favorite part of the Palace.  I spent most of the time we had allotted outside greedily taking as many pictures of as many of the gardens as I could.  Nature and man’s careful grooming of it are what appeals to me most. I'm sure Henry would agree with me that a home is not complete without a landscape full of flowers.
The medieval or Tudor front entrance.

The English love their clocks.  This one is a very unique 24 hour clock.

Part of the original medieval building, beside the kitchens.

The kitchens were immense, capable of feeding hundreds per day.

The Great Hall.  Henry the VIII ate here!

William and Mary's elegant baroque facade.

William and Mary added the ornate chimneys, some of which are only
ornamental.  Wealth was exhibited sometimes by the chimney count.

One of the many gardens.

A board game the courtiers may have played outside the King's chamber.
Next time:  Westminster, Buckingham Palace and Dan the Veterinarian

Click on any picture for a full screen slide show.

Monday, September 17, 2012


London, Day One

I booked a pre-trip that gave me about three and a half extra days in London in which to see all the hot spots, minus time out for an included tour of Hampton Court Palace and a guided bus tour of the city. I knew I was going to have to run around like a maniac to see a tiny fraction of all there is to see in London. But, I was prepared; I'd made a list and a time table and I was determined to do my best.  My list included, The British Museum, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

The flight over was perfect.  I took a direct night flight from San Diego arriving in the afternoon, England time, ready to hit the streets of London. Part of the tour package included being   "chauffeured" to our hotel, the Park Plaza Country Hall. Once there I was greeted by our hospitality guide, who reminded me of a merry garden gnome wearing sensible English shoes.

"Hello! My name is Agnes." Actually, it was Alex but I heard Agnes, so Agnes she became. "You are the last to arrive. I've already taken the others on a walk about, so do come with me and I'll point out some things of interest on the way to catch my bus. Shall we?" And with that I was hustled out the door.

Agnes may have been diminutive but I had trouble keeping up with her as she smartly cut through the throng of people on Westminster Bridge with surprising speed. She was obviously very accustomed to navigating London crowds.Trying to keep up with her I struggled to stay close enough to hear her abbreviated orientation speech.

"On your right is the London Eye.On your left ahead is Parliament and Big Ben. Westminster Abbey is just beyond that. After we cross the bridge you'll see Whitehall on your right. Walking up Whitehall will be Trafalgar Square. Welcome to London! Cheers!"

After waving goodbye to Agnes at the bus stop, I strolled around Parliament and the Abbey for quite awhile mesmerized by their beauty and the enormity of their historic significance taking picture after picture. I then walked north on Whitehall passing the Prime Minister's home on #10 Downing Street and the Royal Horse Guards Parade Grounds (site of the 2012 Olympic beach volleyball games). By the time I wandered all the way to Trafalgar Square the sun was setting and my stomach was grumbling. A sign advertising steak pie made me turn a sharp right into the Silver Cross pub. A quintessential English dinner sounded like the perfect meal for my first day in London. Wrapped in a biscuit crust the steak pie tasted sort of like pureed pot roast and was yummy. Meanwhile, struggling to finish it to the last bite I decided that my first day in London by myself had gone very well.

(Double click on any picture for a full screen slide show.)

View (from left to right) is the London Eye, Westminster Bridge, Big Ben and Parliament. 
 My hotel was located two blocks left of the Eye.  The picture was taken from the Hungerford Bridge.

My camera's wide angle lens distorted old Ben, but it's still a great shot!
(Big Ben is actually the name of the bell, not the tower or clock, but it will always
be Big Ben to us.)

This is the "Sovereign's Gate" where the Queen enters to address Parliament.

Westminster Abby

#10 Downing Street is the famous residence of the Prime Minister.  It is gated
and under armed guard.

View down Whitehall.

Horse Guard Parade Grounds.  Once used as jousting grounds for the knights.

Beware of Royal biting horses!

The Admiralty Arch, gateway to Buckingham Palace
and St. James Palace, home of Prince Charles.

Trafalgar Square and Admiral Nelson's column.  King Charles I is in the front.

I love the Union Jack hat!

 An architectural jewel off Whitehall.

Silver Cross pub on Whitehall close to Trafalgar Square.

 They serve an outstanding steak and ale pie, which I had three
times while I was in London!  English comfort food.  Yum!
SUGGESTED READING: "London" by Edward Rutherfurd (Excellent historical novel chronicling the history of London and Britain.)

Next time: Hampton Court Palace 

Monday, September 10, 2012


Map of my Grand Gallup through Great Britain

I realize I've gone a bit overboard with the alliteration, but it aptly describes the wild romp I just had through parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Grand Circle Tours expertly guided a group of us through 2,500 miles of spectacular scenery and centuries of British history in just two weeks. If I hadn't written a daily journal, I'd never remember where I'd been or what I'd seen. But, even though we breezed through some places way too fast (like the Cotswolds), I'm very happy with the variety of historic places we saw, the unique experiences arranged for us, and especially the people I met.

This was my first trip abroad by myself. Up to this time, I'd put off traveling alone for two big reasons: #1, it's so much more fun to travel with people I know, and #2, I like being in control of the pace and agenda. I'm admittedly spoiled by the luxury of seeing what I want to see for as long as I want to see it. This time I couldn't tempt anyone to come with me, so if I was ever going to see England, I had to screw up the courage and go by myself, which meant a tour. Now, tours have their good points and not so good points. The downside is they set the pace and determine what the group sees. Ironically, it is also one of their strong points. On my own, I would never have seen or experienced as much as I did.

Frankly, I did not look forward to traveling with a group of strangers. I knew from experience that who one goes with could make the trip a joy or a misery. But, the 22 well traveled and gregarious people on this tour pleasantly surprised me by being just plain fun to be with. A great deal of the credit goes to Anita, our tour guide, who with unfailing good humor herded us through Britain like a good sheep dog. She entertained us with her anecdotes about growing up in Liverpool while passing out samples of the foods England, Scotland and Wales are known for--everything from cheeses to blood pudding. And, it never failed to delight us when pointing out items of interest along the way she often mixed up her right and left directions. We got rather used to it; when told to look to the right, all heads dutifully swiveled left.

Then Sean came into our lives. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him in a gift shop in Portmeirion, Wales. I couldn't resist his goofy little face, Celtic green eyes, and his bean filled belly.  He quickly became the rock star of the tour group, everyone becoming a member of his fan club.  "How is Sean today? Did he sleep well?" they would ask. And Larry and Steve, brothers and partners in crime, frequently snatched him and left ransom notes. So it was Sean the Sheep, without saying a word, who transformed 22 polite strangers into a group of friends sharing a wonderful experience.
       Sean and I at Hadrian's Wall

Top left to right, Sean and Anita (our guide), Paula at Whitby Abbey,
Chuck at Hadrian's Wall, John at Whitby Abbey, Darlene at our farewell party,
and finally--Steve and Larry,the sheep snatchers, at Hadrian's Wall.

Sean charmed hearts all over Great Britain--from the town cryer in Chester, 
to the salesgirl in a sweetie shop. He was coveted by Vikings in York, 
snatched by brigands in Stonehenge,
and protected by a Highlander guard in Gretna Green!

So thank you Anita, Davy (our driver who drove us safely over those 2,500 miles), Barb and Larry, Paula and Chuck, Ruthie and Steve, Pat and Bill, Darlene and Harley, Rosalie and Joseph, Cathy and Jim, Gervaise, John, Frank, Judith, Susan, Barbara, and Brenda for making this trip a joy. And to Judy and Dan who had to leave us too early because of a family loss, you were both missed.  Oh, and thank YOU Sean the Sheep.

      Who could resist those adorable googly eyes??

Larry caught red handed snatching Sean.

Next time:  London!